Essere agitato or agere sequitur essere?
It was once said that "a week is a long time in politics". Perhaps those viewing the media coverage of Church events will have come to the same conclusion concerning the Vatican.
For those detached from all means of social communication and news commentary, recent events have included: the convening of a summit on child sexual abuse, the precursor publication of the sentence applied to Fr McCarrick and now the announcement of the conviction of Cardinal Pell by a secular court in Australia. One can well imagine that Vatican officials are in a state of agitation, floundering around to see how to manage the latest press releases. To use the Italian idiom: essere agitato.
Formulation of a response is not without its difficulties. After all, we seemingly occupy a world in which any and all are experts; not only competent but entitled to express public opinions about matters formerly reserved to those trained in the secular sciences or sacred disciplines. One does not need to look too far for examples. We have non-catholic ecclesiastical leaders redefining the notion of the Holy Trinity, clerics within the Anglican Communion declaring God the Father to be neither male nor female, and commentators on the ecclesiastical laws of other denominations morphing into canonists.
In all of this we cannot, and must not, lose sight of the fact that these events have the potential to cause very real harm to the faithful (cleric and lay) who are committed to the transmission of the faith and the salvific mission of the Church. The reason for this is quite simple. Like any organisation, faith communities ascribe to foundational principles. Those principles may comprise a sophisticated amalgam of religious belief, philosophical perspectives and notions of justice (social and individual). However, unless and until the faith community commits itself in a radical way to the upholding of those values, its authenticity and integrity are open to question. So too, is its essential character. It follows that the manner in which the Church (as distinct from the Vatican) responds to these issues, reveals as much about its character as does the genesis of the issues themselves.
For the faithful, the Church is duty bound to remain true to its essential character and mission; not to placate those external to the Church who wish to reduce it to some association akin to the local golf club. In resisting such pressures, the Church has frequently placed reliance upon the core components of religious freedom: autonomy and self-determination. But, no freedom is free from responsibility. What then is the primary responsibility of the Church?
The authenticity of the Church requires that it is within the world, but not of the world. Taken at its most simple level, this requires that the Church is seen as actuated by a settled and irrevocable commitment to its Divine mission. It may be thought that the Divine Mission with which the Church is entrusted is the building up of the people of God. This presupposes the maintenance of an environment in which both the individual and collective response to the universal call to holiness enjoy some prospect of realisation. However, this demands a mind-set and state of being from which all action must flow. In his Rule, St Benedict refers to the novitiate as place in which the novice learns to be at home in the desert in order that he may also be at home in the marketplace. Perhaps, what St Benedict had in mind was not detachment and isolation, but the formulation of an inner resolve based upon self-understanding; a self-understanding founded upon a relationship with Christ and dedication to Him. Only such an inner resolve can equip those who are called to the marketplace with the necessary focus to remain true to their purpose. Has the time come for the re-evangelisation of the whole Church, including those entrusted with episcopal authority? If so, any such evangelisation programme would necessarily require the same radical re-alignment as that identified by St Benedict.
Maybe (just maybe) it is only by this means that the Church will migrate from the present predicament and, with conviction, be able to profess: agere sequitur essere. Lest there be any doubt as to the efficacy of this formula, one need look no further than Our Blessed Mother; whose fiat defined her essence and from which all of her actions flowed. Our Lady conceived without sin: pray for us.